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Audi Celebrates 40 Years of the Five-Cylinder Engine

One of the coolest (and most unconventional) powertrains

One of the coolest (and most unconventional) powertrains

We’re big fans of unconventional powertrains, and Audi’s inline-five engines have piqued our interest ever since we saw footage of the Audi S1 rally car blast through the treelines during the Group B heyday. Audi’s five-banger has been around for four decades now, and the German automaker thought it prudent to take a look at the history of the famed engine.

1979 Audi GLS 5E

According to Audi, the first of its cars to carry a five-pot mill was the 1977 Audi 100. The 100 packed a 2.1-liter engine that produced 136 hp, an attempt at packaging the power of a six-cylinder engine with the size and efficiency of an inline-four. It was followed by a 2.0-liter diesel in 1978 and a turbocharged variant in 1979. The first blown five-cylinder was good for a then-impressive 170 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque.

Moving into the 1980s, Audi’s inline-five became a motorsports powerhouse. In competition tune, the engines saw outputs as high as 450 hp in the mid-80s. When paired with Audi’s new Quattro all-wheel-drive system, it claimed two WRC championships in 1982 and 1984.

1984 Audi Sport Quattro

Audi pulled out of rally in 1986, but the five-cylinder continued to compete in other series, including 598 hp and 720 hp evolutions in the S1 hillclimb and IMSA GTO, respectively.

In 1989, Audi pulled the covers off a direct-injected, turbodiesel five-cylinder in the new 100 TDI. In 1994, the world saw the introduction of the mental Audi RS2 Avant, our favorite car to feature five pistons. Developed in part by Porsche well before the two became corporate siblings, it featured a Porsche-ified engine, brakes, suspension, and wheels.

1987 Audi Sport Quattro S1

After a 12-year hiatus, the five-cylinder returned in the 2009 TT RS, which was powered by a turbocharged 2.5-liter engine that put out 340 hp, a stellar figure for the time. In the new TT RS, the 394-hp 2.5-liter is almost as powerful as the engine found in the indomitable Group B S1.

Here’s to the next 40 years, Audi.